An exorcism is the religious practice of removing demons or other possessing spirits from a person or place. Ridding someone of a diabolic possession is not always an easy process, but many believe it is necessary for the safety of the victim and those around them. Exorcisms have been practiced for thousands of years and across several major religions, including: Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and, of course, Catholicism.
Exorcism in Catholicism
Though called by a variety of names, the ritual of exorcism can be found in nearly every form of religion. However, it is most often associated with the removal of demons in Christianity; specifically in the denomination of Catholicism. Catholics believe that the power of Jesus Christ provides priests with the power to expel evil demons.
Baptism, blessings, and the cleansing Prayers of Deliverance can be considered forms of exorcism in the Catholic faith, but Major Exorcisms are what we typically associate with the word. This form, also known as the Rite of Exorcism, is considered when a powerful entity has taken control of an individual. This rite can only be performed by a priest, or with the permission of a Bishop.
Identifying the Possessed
Demonic or spiritual possession can display itself in many ways depending on who, or what, has actually taken hold of the host. Most signs are quite similar to what we associate with mental disorders like schizophrenia, but escalate much quicker and are accompanied by events or characteristics that can only be considered paranormal. Some symptoms of possession are:
- Sudden hair or eye color changes.
- Tone of voice switches randomly from very high to very low.
- Speaks in tongues, or languages they’ve never learned.
- Ability to move the body in unnatural or humanly impossible positions.
- A sudden aversion to all religious objects, practices, or materials.
- Exhibits extreme rage along with superhuman strength.
- Recants past events they’ve never heard of as if they were there.
- Ability to read the thoughts of those around them.
- Levitates at will or during sleep.
Due to advancement in medicine and many tragedies that have occurred during exorcisms, an extensive investigation is now required before an exorcism will be performed. It’s essentially a process of elimination to determine if the person is truly possessed by a spiritual being or not. A priest will enlist the help of a psychiatrist, medical doctor, and Church-appointed paranormal expert to determine if the symptoms can be explained by mental illness, a medical condition, or fraud. If the investigation concludes that the individual is truly possessed, then an exorcist is appointed to the case.
Performing the Rite of Exorcism
The appointed exorcist dresses in this surplice along with a purple stole, and makes his way to the victim. He then begins the ritual by speaking a series of statements, prayers, and appeals. These can be divided into two groups: Those in which the priest asks God to free the subject from the demon, and those in which the priest commands the demon to leave by the name of God. The priest will perform various actions at specific times during his recitations, such as: laying his hands on the victim, splashing holy water on everyone in the area, clasping or hold up a holy relic, and making signs that signify the cross on himself as well as the victim. All of these things are repeated until the demon has been expelled, or the priest has exhausted all options.
Most Famous Exorcisms
Though there have been many documented cases of exorcisms, there are a few that stand out.
The Exorcism of Ronald Doe
Upon the sudden death of his aunt, a teenage boy attempted to communicate with her through Ouija board. Soon after, many strange things started occurring around him. When no one could explain the events, two priests were called to help. During multiple exorcisms performed on him in 1949, the priests witnessed his bed shake violently, various objects flying around the room, many words appearing in wounds on his body, and the boy speaking in a guttural tone. Once the 30th rite was completed, everything suddenly stopped and the boy had no memory of the previous events. Though given the pseudonyms Ronald Doe and Ronnie Mannheim, the boy’s true name was never released. The diary kept by one of the priests was adapted into the film and novel, The Exorcist.
The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel
A German Catholic woman named Anneliese Michel, initially thought to be suffering from depression, began hearing voices that told her she was damned. Over time she developed seizures and became intolerant to many things related to her religion, like walking past a crucifix or drinking holy water. After psychiatric treatment and medication showed no improvement, her family turned to the church for help. From 1975-76 over 60 exorcisms were performed, some lasting as long as 4 hours. She died in her home on July 1, 1976 from malnutrition. Her case has been considered a misdiagnosis of mental illness, negligence, and abuse. The films of Requiem and The Exorcism of Emily Rose are based on her story.
Ossett murder case of 1974
In the British town of Ossett, a man by the name of Michael Taylor expressed that he felt evil within himself. He began to verbally lash out in his Christian Fellowship Group, and his erratic behavior escalated even after an absolution was performed. A priest and a group of Methodist clergymen were eventually called in to carry out an exorcism. The rite lasted for many hours from October 5th to 6th in 1976 and those involved claimed that at least forty demons spoke through him. When they were all too exhausted to go on they allowed him to return home, though they feared that at least three demons were still present. A few hours later, he was found in the street covered in blood. He had murdered his wife; tearing her face off with his bare hands.
Exorcisms are protected under the first amendment in the US and still preformed throughout the world today. In fact, the many films related to them have caused a sharp increase in the number of exorcisms being requested. However, only a handful of priests have been given the ability to perform them and less than 1% of all requests are granted. Whether you believe in possessions or not, the need for exorcisms has been around for a long time and will probably be around for many years to come.